Posts from the ‘Restaurant Reviews’ Category

An Unexpected Pleasure: North Avenue Grill

I was up early this morning, eager to put the first coat of paint on a room that I’m reinventing, and by 9:00 I had three hours of work in already! I decided to cruise over to North Ave. to find some breakfast, intending to grab a meatball at Tall Guy – unfortunately, they were out of the office handling a big catering event. So being a little bit lazy, I chose to go right next door to North Avenue Grill.

I’d never been in before, but I’ve seen people sitting on the sidewalk all summer, and I was excited to find a diner-style counter when I walked in, where I could grab a stool and enjoy my solo breKfast without feeling like I was hogging a table. Speaking of hogs – the street was lined with Harley’s – what a cool day to live in Milwaukee! Glad to host some of those riders in my neighborhood! The rest of the restaurant was cozy booths and quite a bit of outdoor seating – very comfortable and relaxed.

Soon after I sat down, I stuck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me. I learned that Leslie and Armando have lived in Tosa for 31 years, and enjoy checking out local restaurants. They’ve been to North Avenue Grill a couple of times, and Leslie’s over easy eggs have been prepared perfectly each time. Armando had a skillet that looked amazing – chorizo, black beans, salsa, avocado, cheese – it made my mouth water while I was waiting for my order. Leslie did agree with me that the one thing missing was a Bloody Mary. Our server checked and confirmed that they don’t serve bloodys…yet. Promising…

The menu was large with a great selection of breakfast foods and sandwiches, burgers, etc. Since I’m trying to stick to my Paleo plan, I was a little nervous about finding something appropriate. I needn’t have worried. I ordered a veggie omelette with no cheese (who needs cheese when you have onions, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms and avocado?) which comes with fried American potatoes and toast. It was no problem to substitute fruit for my toast, and I was happy with pineapple, grapes, strawberries and melon.

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I knew I was cheating a little bit with everything being cooked in an unknown oil, but I was still proud of my order. I sampled the potatoes but didn’t finish them – wow – a perfect fried crust on soft potatoes. The omelette was great – the avocado helped me give up the cheese because it was smooth and creamy. Thumbs up on my meal.

I won’t stop there with the compliments. They serve Valentine coffee – my favorite local roaster. The staff were friendly, keeping my coffee and water full despite the fast pace they were moving at. The cooks looked like they were in a carefully choreographed ballet – never stepping on each others toes or acting cross with one another despite the tiny grill space (this is important to me – I don’t want the staff yelling at each other or complaining while making my food – bad juju). When I perused the beer list, local brews prevailed and there was a nice selection of wines on a chalkboard waiting for me to sample.

This breakfast was a happy coincidence, and I can assure you, I’ll be back. Maybe even tomorrow.

Check out North Avenue Grill online at http://www.northavenuegrill.com. They do carry out, too!

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This Aint Your Typical Hospital Food

Holy cow it’s been a week. My pedometer read over 17,000 steps for about three days in a row – I was not working out, I was gearing up for the grand opening of the Lawlis Family Hospice, Horizon’s newly renovated in patient unit in Mequon. Aside from last minute sink replacements, TV wiring fiascos and locks being on the wrong side of doors, I was in charge of making sure our donors had a wonderful experience during the ribbon-cutting, and out volunteers, staff and community were given a warm and delicious welcome.

What I discovered this week was that there is a huge misconception of “hospital food” and the chefs who prepare it. I was lucky enough to work with the incredible catering staff at Columbia St. Mary’s Ozaukee Hospital, and they blew my mind not only with the quality of their product, but with the presentation and staff support they provided.

Our first event was a luncheon for about 40 people who were so excited to see the unit they made possible for the first time.

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When I placed my order, I asked for sandwiches, pasta salad, veggies and fruit. Here’s what they came up with. Delicious traditional sandwiches using pretzel buns and focaccia, a variety of wraps, melon, berries, pineapple and the veggie platter even included jicama – I’d call that above and beyond.

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I kid you not – this dessert tray was devoured. Profiteroles, truffles, tarts and macaroons delighted our guests, offered bite sized treats. Also, a plug for Nestle Tollhouse bake and serve cookies – we have a new oven in the unit kitchen, and made cookies to create a sensory experience. The kids (and let’s be honest, adults too) were lined up waiting for these to come out of the oven.

Our evening event included Trader Joe’s wine and a great spread of cheese, a variety of four sausages, more fruit and veggies, a really spectacular pepper hummus…and more cookies. As you can see, this is not what you’d expect from a hospital catering service. I really appreciate the attention to detail that was given to our special events. This week was a landmark for Horizon. The new hospice is going to touch a lot of lives and make a really difficult time a little bit easier for so many people. The celebration was just a starting point for something very, very important. I’m so proud to be a part of this.

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Tall Guy and a Grill

It was a beautiful Saturday morning in Milwaukee, and after my walk, I decided I needed to go check out Tall Guy and a Grill (www.tallguyandagrill.com), my friends’ new storefront at 7227 W. North Ave. in Wauwatosa. I’ve known the owners, Dan and Amanda Nowak for years, and they’ve been very generous when it comes to supporting whatever fundraiser or special even that I’m working on.

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I was one of Tall Guy’s first customers back in the day, when he was launching his catering business, and I’m so proud to see the new storefront come to life right in my neighborhood!

Currently, there is a limited take out menu which includes breakfast meatballs and BBQ meatball sliders. This is just a small cross section of the specialties available on the catering menu.

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This was my first sample of the breakfast slider and I was wowed. This pork meatball provides a generous portion and is accented by a sweet potato biscuit and drizzled with maple syrup. Lets just say, for a girl who is a sucker for the salty/sweet combo, this was a perfect breakfast.

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I’ve always been a fan of Tall Guy’s meatballs, and I must say, he’s evolved his recipes in creative, delicious ways over the years, even taking second place and winning the People’s Choice award at last years Milwaukee Historical Society Meatball Challenge. My Bourbon BBQ pork lunch meatball slider lived up to the hype. With a complex blend of flavors and moist but firm texture, placed on a pretzel roll and topped with coleslaw and bourbon sauce, I devoured this delicious sandwich.

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I had a great take out experience, but there is more to Tall Guy and a Grill than the storefront. I’ve personally enjoyed the catering at a work picnic, and had a wonderful Brewers tailgate catered last year. One of the really creative things you can pick up at the store is the tailgate box:

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This little beauty can get thrown in your trunk for quick prep in the Brewers parking lot. It includes a disposable grill and lighter, grilling utensils, garbage bags and even Ziplocks for your leftovers. I’m all about simplicity, so the idea of picking up my whole tailgate in one stop is very appealing.

I love seeing all of the new small businesses coming to my neighborhood, and I love supporting my friends and their entrepreneurial endeavors. I encourage you all to stop by the storefront if you’re on the neighborhood, or give Dan and Amanda a call the next time you are having a family picnic, wedding or work outing. Not only will you have a great food experience, but you’ll experience the easygoing, casual charm of Tall Guy and a Grill.

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Friday Night Tasting: Crazy Water, Blue Jacket and Meritage

Friday night took me on a food and beverage adventure around Milwaukee – such an awesome experience! I got to sample three restaurants that I’d never been to before: Crazy Water, Blue Jacket and Meritage.

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We started with an early first course at Crazy Water (www.crazywaterrestaurant.com) which is located at 839 S. 2nd St. In Milwaukee. Walker’s Point seems to be an up and coming little foodie neighborhood just south of the 3rd Ward, and the restaurant has a non-assuming exterior on the corner. The tiny kitchen is in one I’d the front windows, and the other is filled with a dining table. The interior dining room and bar is absolutely decadent – gorgeous wall papers, dark wood, beautiful fabrics…would be a great place to snuggle up with a date in the middle of winter with a hot toddie. Since its summer, we chose to check out the exterior seating area – a lovely little covered courtyard filled with intimate seating, a fountain, lots of plants and great music.

When we sat down, the first thing I noticed was the great silverware – the knife was created with a handle so that it sits blade down, rather than on its side. I love me some details. Our server came for our drink order and we asked about martinis – although they don’t have a list, he asked what we’d like (something refreshing and cucumber or citrus based, with gin) and returned with a lovely creation. We decided to start with the soup of the day, which had an exotic name that I can’t remember. It was a creamy summer squash soup with the perfect amount of jalapeƱo to make my taste buds dance, served with a fresh and delicious dinner roll.

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We couldn’t resist ordering an appetizer as well, and settled on the garlic chicken wontons with julienned vegetables and hijiki sauce. This also had some special flavor – the bed of vegetables was a wonderful compliment to the crunchy fried wonton and the sauce was peppery and smooth.

I would absolutely return to Crazy Water. The ambiance was right up my alley, the service was spot on and the food that we sampled was delicious and interesting to taste. Entrees range from $22-$28, appetizers and salads are in the $10 range and they’ve got a nice wine list, as well as a talented bartender to make custom drinks. When we asked our server what he’s enjoying in the area, he mentioned a new restaurant, Blue Jacket, just a few blocks away. Off we went.

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Blue Jacket (www.bluejacketbar.com) is located at 135 E. National Ave. in Walker’s Point, right next door to La Merenda. I was in love with the space as we walked up to it, a very open concept on another corner lot, offering huge windows and a very airy feel. I also appreciate the “Live from the Third Coast” mentality honoring our Great Lakes tradition. One of the first things that I noticed and thought was missing was music – until I realized the sound system was based on a turntable surrounded by a large collection of records behind the bar. Stole my heart a little bit.

Upon arrival, we were able to be seated at a high top table near the bar. It took more than 5 minutes for anyone to check in with us, which was a little disappointing as we were eager to peek at the menu. We decided on another round of fancy drinks: the London Fog (smoked tea infused Bombay Sapphire, lemon, grapefruit, yellow chartreuse, sparkling wine) and a Lake Bluff Gimlet (North Shore Mighty gin, lime, lavender syrup and Bittercube Door County Hop bitters).

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We decided we didn’t need anything heavy at this point in the evening, so the fish themed artisan plank it was. I was impressed with the selection at the $14 price point: herring, trout, salmon and whitefish, accompanied by pickled peppers, beans, asparagus and beets, tartar sauce, candied walnuts, raisins and a generous portion of warm bread and flatbread slices. The fish was delicious and well presented, and we also noticed that for an additional $4 you could combine two of the planks (fish, cheese or meat) for an even larger starter. They also have a nice selection of small plates ranging from $8-$20.

Despite being happy with the food and drinks, I will put Blue Jacket at the back of my restaurant rotation and wait a few months before I return. I really enjoyed how open the space was – the breeze was moving around us the entire time. The service had a lot of flaws – very slow and inattentive. I noticed the host in a bit of a panic with a couple of servers – something I don’t want to know about as a customer. I hope they pull everything together, as I think this would be a great place for happy hour or a dinner with friends, especially in the warm months.

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The final stop of the night was Meritage (www.meritage.us) in Washington Heights. There is nothing unbelievably different about the interior of this restaurant, but it feels comfortable and friendly the minute you walk in.

We weren’t hungry in the slightest at this point, so we decided on an after dinner drink instead. The drink list is fascinating with creations like the jala-poblano margarita, coconut-curry martini and Nutella cocktail. The bartender asked what we were in the mood for and recommended his off-menu rhubarb pie martini. We were quick to agree, and reminisce about our Grandmothers and rhubarb (freshly picked and dipped in sugar, baked into a cake for Memorial Day every year).

The martini was fabulous (we learned that it was a simple recipe: home-made rhubarb infused vodka, sour mix and simple syrup) and I was slightly disappointed that my stomach couldn’t hold another course. Appetizers like ricotta gnocchi with scallops and entrees like bison stuffed chile caught my eye, bringing this restaurant to my “visit again” list.

Milwaukee River Cruising

Wednesday night Katy and I had the opportunity to take advantage of one of the perks of being an “Event Planner” in Milwaukee – open house events hosted by some of the best caterers in the city. This one was one of the most unique I’ve been invited to over the years – Zilli Hospitality (zillihospitalitygroup.com) invited us to join them on the Milwaukee Boat Line (mkeboat.com) for an evening on the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan.

We were welcomed onto a lovely boat with a large interior cabin and open air upper deck. The cabin had a bar, buffet station and 7 or 8 tables which seated at least five each – a surprising capacity and very comfortable.

Throughout the 2-hour cruise there were passed hors d’ovures including sesame peanut lollypops, olive, tomato and mozzarella skewers, eggplant cheese pinwheels and my favorite: watermelon bites filled with goat cheese and topped with a balsamic reduction.

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We didn’t expect such a meal, especially on a boat, but the main course really won us over. It was a cleverly arranged glass with rich cheese hash browns in the bottom, topped with a sweet BBQ pulled pork and coleslaw. The icing on the cake was a sliced pork tenderloin sandwich.

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This is a situation where I wonder how they do it. We are on a boat with limited space – how in the world does this food taste so fresh and perfectly prepared? We asked the question, and found out that there is space below deck to prepare food, so everything was cooked on board.

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Overall, I was quite impressed with this event. The ambiance was perfect – not too crowded, plenty of food, no lines, and the beautiful city and water. I didn’t believe you could really do catering well in a situation like this, but the folks at Zilli proved me wrong. Katy and I are grateful for a perfect evening on the water – thank you for the opportunity Zilli Hospitality!

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Cafe 1505

Despite my best laid plans for this busy week, I still ended up out for lunch instead of sticking to my home made goodness. It’s hard for me to make good decisions when me use include things like burgers and BLTs and things with toasted bread and melted cheese. My co-worker Katy assured me that if we stopped at Cafe 1505 (www.cafe1505.com) in Mequon there would be something appealing AND healthy on the menu.

She was right. We started with a delicious Sedona roasted corn tortilla soup, which was smooth and not very spicy at all, despite the poblano peppers.

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My main course was the Wild Alaskan salmon Cobb salad – it was huge! I had them leave off the bacon, but couldn’t resist the Gorgonzola crumbles. Paired with a generous portion of salmon, quarter of an avocado and hard boiled egg, everything came together perfectly with the home made lemon Dijon dressing.

Although this wouldn’t be my top pick for atmosphere, the food was solid, and Katy was correct, I felt like I was able to choose well without sacrificing satisfaction.

John’s Sandwich Shop

I’m behind again! Tuesday night I had a relaxing friend-therapy session and casual dinner with my Annie, after yoga of course! We had planned on the Vietnamese restaurant next door to our studio, but to our surprise, the doors have closed. So plan B became John’s Sandwich Shop https://www.facebook.com/pages/Johns-Sandwich-Shop/49172683980?rf=117484961603984, a little cafe at 8913 W. North Ave. in Tosa. At first glance, this place appears to be sort of a greasy spoon with a lunch counter and limited table seating. Let me tell you, the greasy spoon look is far from the truth of this cuisine!

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On the menu, you’ll find breakfast all day which includes things like berry flax French toast and an asparagus pine nut scrambler, as well as sandwiches (sockeye salmon with blueberried balsamic glaze), burgers (caramelized onion and Brie), salads (sriracha crunch) and wraps. They even have Udi’s gluten free buns and bread for you gluten-free peeps! I chose the cashew chicken wrap, but had them make it “naked” – the peanut sauce is delish and I love me some broccoli slaw. I couldn’t resist a side of John’s garlic fries – these puppies are fresh, home made and have the perfect crunchy breading. Also, the ranch dressing served with the fries is special, and I’m ranch obsessed. I think there is a little cayenne, and maybe some paprika mixed in.

John’s is truly a hidden treasure in Wauwatosa. It’s food is much more sophisticated than you’d expect from the look of the place, and there are cute outdoor tables available this time of year. The food is fresh and well prepared, and its always a treat when I stop in.

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